Wed. Jun 19th, 2024

Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. (photo: Wayne Schoenfeld/Reuters)

Written by William Boardman for Reader Supported News

Who Is Richard Falk and Why Do Some People Hate Him for Stating the Obvious?


n a personal blog post titled “A Commentary on the Marathon Murders,” Richard Falk begins by describing Boston’s “dominant reactions” to the Patriots’ Day bombing as being full of compassion for the victims, resolve to catch the perpetrators, and an urge to restore normalcy as swiftly as possible:

In this spirit, it is best to avoid dwelling on the gory details by darkly glamorizing the scene of mayhem with flowers and homage. It is better to move forward with calm resolve and a re-commitment to the revolutionary ideals that midwifed the birth of the American nation.

Such responses are generally benevolent, especially when compared to the holy war fevers espoused by national leaders, the media, and a vengeful public after the 9/11 attacks that also embraced Islamophobic falsehoods. Maybe America has become more poised in relation to such extremist incidents, but maybe not …

Writing on April 19, four days after the event, Falk was aware that one suspect was dead and the other still at large. His concern was that the president – and the country – not over-react to what, although he doesn’t put it this way, would be a slow day in Baghdad.

What’s to hate here? Falk, who taught international law at Princeton for forty years, is calling for a rational rather than a rash response.

Why Would Anyone Think a President Might Stampede the Country Into War?

It’s not as though we lack a recent example of a president in panic launching stupid, destructive wars that piled up dead and debt that will haunt the country for a generation. It’s a fair question – with no certain answer – to ask, if the United States had not engaged in mass killing in Afghanistan and Iraq, would we have ever heard of the Tsarnaev brothers?

But Falk’s call for reasoned restraint, largely ignored in most media, evoked a storm on the right. A week later, on April 26, DemocracyNOW reported the reaction this way, under the headline “U.N. Official Condemned for Highlighting Role of U.S. Policy in Boston Attacks.”

A United Nations official is facing calls for his ouster following his comments about the role of U.S. policy in the Boston Marathon bombings. Richard Falk [is] U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories….

Officials in Canada and Britain as well as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice have called for Falk to be fired.

A Call to Reason Strikes Some As Anti-Semitic – Really!

Falk’s blog post, over 1,500 words, covered a lot of ground and challenged much conventional wisdom, past and present. His concern was how the past might affect the present, and how the present might differ from the past:

Obama came to Washington as outspoken opponent of torture and of the Iraq War. He also arrived after the failed wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, which had devastated two countries, seemingly beyond foreseeable recovery, while adding nothing to American security, however measured. These unlawful wars wasted trillions expended over the several years during which many Americans were enduring the hardships and pain of the deepest economic recession since the 1930s.

In other words, temporarily at least, the Beltway think tanks and the government are doing their best to manage global crises without embarking on further wars in a spirit of geopolitical intoxication….

Accusing the reformed alcoholic President Bush of another kind of drunkenness might have elicited some rejoinder from the right. But it didn’t. The kernel of Falk’s offense was here:

At least it seems that for the present irresponsible and unlawful warfare are no longer the centerpiece of America’s foreign policy as had become the case in the first decade of the 21st century, although this is far from a certainty.

The war drums are beating at this moment in relation to both North Korea and Iran, and as long as Tel Aviv has the compliant ear of the American political establishment, those who wish for peace and justice in the world should not rest easy.

Who Wants America’s Next War? Where? And How Soon?

Falk was not attacked for omitting the loudest war drums of all – beating for Syria. Falk’s offense was disparaging Tel Aviv, despite the obvious reality in recent years that Israel has been nudging the U.S. toward war against Iran and/or Syria.

But he wasn’t finished. Falk then noted what he called the “taboo” against “any type of self-scrutiny by either the political leadership or the mainstream media” — just the sort of scrutiny he was attempting. And Falk cited hopefully several callers to public radio who expressed similar concerns about the relationship of civilian-killing drone strikes or years of torturing prisoners to the “retribution” (as one of the callers characterized it) of the Boston bombing.

Falk asked: “Should we not all be meditating on W.H. Auden’s haunting line: ‘Those to whom evil is done/do evil in return’?”

Falk’s attackers made little attempt to engage his argument on its merits. Instead they accused him of some version of “blaming the Boston Marathon bombings on the U.S. and Israel” (i.e., Heritage Foundation,, Haaretz, Jewish Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, FoxNews, et alia, apparently led by UN Watch, an Israeli-leaning group which has been attacking Falk for years for his defense of Palestinians). The most-quoted line from Falk’s blog in support of the charge against him was this:

The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world. In some respects the United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks, and these may yet happen, especially if there is no disposition to rethink US relations to others in the world, starting with the Middle East.

Who Decided That Truth Was Offensive? And Should Be Suppressed?

And how is this, or any part of it, not a truism? Is there not an ongoing American project of global domination? Is it not even welcomed and encouraged by quite a few other countries? Has the United States not been fortunate to suffer little compared to the suffering it has imposed? Does anyone really think it’s not a good idea to rethink US relations to the rest of the world?

Falk’s critics generally don’t acknowledge these questions; much less do they attempt to provide cogent answers. Their game is demonization, as writers in both Counterpunch (Jeremy Hammond, who published Falk’s blog in his Foreign Policy Journal) and the American Conservative (Scott McConnell, founding editor) have detailed.

The people demonizing Falk have been at it for years, and the reason is simple: he has been critical of Israel.

Since Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo, as Falk sees it, Israel has been pushing back against any fundamental change and Obama has been in the midst of “an accelerating back peddling in relation to opening political space in the Middle East. Now at the start of his second presidential term, it seems that Obama has given up altogether, succumbing to the Beltway ethos of Israel First…. Such obsequious diplomacy was a disappointment even to those of us with low expectations in what the White House is willing [to do] to overcome the prolonged ordeal of the Palestinian people.”

Are America’s “Revolutionary Ideals” Even Relevant Anymore?

Falk concludes essentially as he began, with his concern for the nation to somehow re-commit itself to the revolutionary ideals that made the United States possible in the first place:

Aside from the tensions of the moment, self-scrutiny and mid-course reflections on America’s global role is long overdue. Such a process is crucial both for the sake of the country’s own future security and also in consideration of the wellbeing of others.

Such adjustments will eventually come about either as a result of a voluntary process of self-reflection or through the force of unpleasant events. How and when this process of reassessment occurs remains a mystery. Until it does, America’s military prowess and the abiding confidence of its leaders in hard power diplomacy makes the United States a menace to the world and to itself.

… bipartisan support for maintaining the globe-girdling geopolitics runs deep in the body politic, and is accompanied by the refusal to admit the evidence of national decline. The signature irony is that the more American decline is met by a politics of denial, the more rapid and steep will be the decline….

We should be asking ourselves at this moment, “how many canaries will have to die before we awaken from our geopolitical fantasy of global domination?”

For his efforts, Falk has been variously called “grotesque,” “anti-American,” “anti-Semitic” and “a self-hating Jew.”

Most Countries Maintained a Diplomatic Silence on the Falk Matter

Among some diplomats, however, their reactions gave little indication that officials had read the original text.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN (and would-be Secretary of State) Susan Rice apparently tweeted on April 23, in response to an appeal from UN Watch, which has been campaigning against Falk since he was first appointed to his UN position in May 2008: “Outraged by Richard Falk’s highly offensive Boston comments. Someone who spews such vitriol has no place at the UN. Past time for him to go.”

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird issued a statement on April 24 calling for Falk’s removal from his UN post and saying in part:

Once again, United Nations official Richard Falk has spewed more mean-spirited, anti-Semitic rhetoric, this time blaming the attacks in Boston on President [Barack] Obama and the State of Israel.

There is a dangerous pattern to Mr. Falk’s anti-Western and anti-Semitic comments. The United Nations should be ashamed to even be associated with such an individual.

The British Mission to the UN issued an April 24 press release:

The UK objects strongly to recent remarks made by UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, linking the Boston bombings to “American global domination” and “Tel Aviv”. This is the third time we have had cause to express our concerns about Mr Falk’s antisemitic remarks….

Higher levels of these governments have remained silent.

And Falk appears secure in his role as U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories through the end of his mandate in mid-2014. As FoxNews somewhat bitterly reported: “The United Nations official who angered critics by blaming the Boston Marathon bombing on ‘American global domination’ will keep his post, because not enough other countries took offense at his comments.”

And What If Falk Had Said Anything Like What They Said He Said?

The distortions and lies of those attacking Falk were detailed at significant length (28 pages) on a web site called Mondoweiss on April 25. The site is run by Phan Ngyuen, self-described as “a Palestine solidarity activist based in New York.” He notes that after Falk responded to a direct inquiry from the Jewish Chronicle in London, the Jewish Chronicle revised its initially harsh headline on the story. Answering the question whether he had suggested that Israel was responsible for the Boston bombing, Falk wrote:

I never suggested such a connection. My reflections were only a commentary on focusing all attention on the wrongdoing of the perpetrators, and avoiding self-scrutiny as to why the United States, more than elsewhere, was the target of such extremist behavior.

This has been a national characteristic ever since the atomic bombs were dropped at the end of World War II, and before as well. It does not lead to any kind of learning experience that might make the world a less menacing place to inhabit.


William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.



0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x